Labour should never take ethnic minority voters for granted

If the Tories can shake off the nasty party image, there is ample evidence the party can build on the 16 per cent ethnic minority support they had in 2010, writes James Bloodworth.

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If the Tories can shake off the nasty party image, there is ample evidence the party can build on the 16 per cent ethnic minority support they had in 2010, writes James Bloodworth

“The rising number of middle-class ethnic minority voters could help tip the election in favour of David Cameron,” the Telegraph proclaimed this morning, citing new research by Demos which suggests Labour risks losing ethnic minority voters as they become more middle class.

Second and third generation immigrants could lose their ‘reflex’ support for Labour, with those moving to traditionally white middle class areas adopting the voting patterns of their new neighbours, according to the study.

The report adds that:

“The expectation would be that succeeding generations of minority voters may drift away from their parents reflex support for Labour – or at the very least might not inherit the first generation immigrants hostility to the Conservatives.”

Despite appearences, this is actually quite positive news. It’s good that voters from ethnic minority backgrounds feel that a mainstream political party isn’t inimically hostile towards them, and it demonstrates one of the successes of integration in Britain – we are increasingly one society regardless of things like skin colour. I don’t want to live in a country where a person’s political affiliations are based on their ethnicity, even if in the past such affiliations have benefited the left.

The study also (hopefully) communicates an important message to Labour; one which it should have already taken on board in light of the recent surge of UKIP: that no group of voters can be taken for granted.

As has been documented by Matthew Goodwin and Rob Ford in their recent book, UKIP is picking up an unprecedented level of support from disenfranchised blue collar voters whose natural home really ought to be Labour.

Yes, you heard that right. Contrary to media perceptions, UKIP are not just disillusioned shire Tories, but have a ‘base’ that is increasingly made up of low income voters concerned about things like the cost of living. The average UKIP voter is more likely to have finished education at 16 or under than voters of the three main parties and is less likely to be university-educated or have an income over £40,000. According to a 2012 poll by Lord Ashcroft, rather than appealing to the hard-right wing of the Tory Party, UKIP are picking up swaths of support from Britons worried about things like job security and stagnant wages.

UKIP are arguably picking up this type of support because for too long Labour have taken a swathe of working class voters for granted, instead going after coveted middle class swing voters (nothing wrong with that of course) while assuming that the core vote had nowhere else to go.

If anything good at all is to come out of the rise of UKIP it should be the recognition that this is not a strategy at all, but rather a lamentable level of complacency which really should now end.

The same goes for ethnic minority voters, and the point should have been driven home by today’s report from Demos. The Conservatives have traditionally performed poorly with ethnic minority voters, and despite being the largest party at the 2010 election the party won just 16 per cent of the ethnic minority vote compared with 37 per cent of white voters.

Many from non-white backgrounds are reluctant to vote Conservative because they fear, to put it bluntly, that the party is racist – due no doubt to the historical associations with people like Enoch Powell but also to the party’s anti-immigration rhetoric. According to the Tory candidate for Dudley North, the “general perception” among black and Asian voters is that the Conservatives are still a racist party.

If the Tories can shake off the nasty party image, however (and that’s a big ‘if’ considering how long they’ve been trying), there is ample evidence to suggest they can build substantially on the paltry 16 per cent ethnic minority support they had in 2010. As Katharine Birbalsingh wrote for the Telegraph back in 2010, ethnic minorities tend to be conservative with a small C.

This potential is especially marked when it comes to immigrants of Indian origin, who often have a strong affinity for entrepreneurialism and family values – two areas the Tories are strong in. Of the various ethnic minority groups, the Conservatives did best among voters with Indian roots at the 2010 election, with one in four voting for the party.

This could potentially store up trouble for Labour, but there’s no reason it has to. The Tories have not managed to significantly detoxify the brand, and the attempt to win back disillusioned UKIP voters is unlikely to endear them to ethnic minority voters who are understandably turned off by obsessive anti-immigration narratives.

What today’s report should do, however, is put an end to the unhealthy idea of Labour ‘core’ voters. Electoral support is something that must be earned, not taken for granted.

3 Responses to “Labour should never take ethnic minority voters for granted”

  1. Dave Roberts

    I agree that the Labour Party has taken the ethnic vote for granted for too long. However this assumes that there is such a thing as an ethnic vote, a defined “ethnic” block. I don’t think there is any more. There might have been in terms of unswerving loyalty to the Labour party in years gone by but not any more.

    I know Sikhs in East London who have always voted Tory because they run businesses and have the highest proportion of home ownership of any group in the country. Similarly Indians who are also high achievers vote Conservative. Africans generally don’t vote as is the situation with Jamaicans I knew and what the conservative Catholic Poles do I can’t say.

  2. swatnan

    It seems that the settled BAME communities are now beginning to vote on a class basis, rather like the rest of the population. In away that is a move in the right direction.

  3. uglyfatbloke

    I expect you’re both right. My old friend from Trinidad is a staunch tory and sounds like it too, but I get the impression that that is exceptional and that most people’s voting behaviour is increasingly linked to their economic background rather than where their grandparents or their great-grandparents came from. 50/60/70 years ago.

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